Escaping to Orvieto

Sunday was our first transition day with the larger group. We had already purchased the train ticket–one piece of paper for four people, quite interesting. The taxi stand was conveniently just around the corner from our flat. We lugged our bags there and employed two cabs to take us to Termini station. A quick scan of the departures board showed that our train was at platform 1 and a short walk through the chaos of Termini found the train already in place. We located our carriage and seats, which were three together (at a table) and one across the aisle. We’re not sure why the machine sold the seats that way (bad algorithm? no sets of four available when we booked?), but happily the Italian student who was booked at our table spoke excellent English and was willing to swap her seat for our odd one across the aisle.
As we were arriving in Orvieto, Mom was still in the bathroom, and she had to fight her way back through the exiting crowds to get to us and her backpack. We still managed to get everyone and everything off the train before it departed (it was not as difficult as with the bikes). Of course there were more legs to this journey. From the train station, the best way UP (it is a hill town) to Orvieto is by funicular. We bought our tickets and waited to board. It’s a pretty short but steep ride that includes a tunnel. One car comes down while the other goes up (there’s a double track section part-way up the hill). The system originally used water-based counter ballasts, but now is powered by electricity. After the funicular, a shuttle bus transports guests farther up the hill to the main (Duomo) square. I can’t quite imagine what this shuttle is like in high season, as ours was packed!
Upon exiting the shuttle, you are right next to Orvieto’s top attraction, the Duomo. We passed by on the way to our hotel, where we were surprised to be able to check in at noon. After a quick consultation with Rick, we headed out to Peng Cheng for lunch. It may sound odd to have Chinese food in Umbria, but it is actually possible to get burned out on pasta and pizza. The main dishes were unremarkable, but the appetizers (especially the fried onions) were quite good.
Orvieto was hosting a chocolate festival during our visit! We stopped in after lunch to view their creations and purchase some overpriced, but tasty Italian chocolate before continuing to the cathedral.
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The Duomo in Orvieto is unlike any other church before it on this trip. The outer walls are striped in appearance and the facade contains a rose window, gold-colored mosaics with scenes from the life of Mary, and impressive 14th-century sculptures depicting Genesis, the Tree of Jesse (Jesus’ family), New Testament stories, and the Last Judgment. The inside was not as awe-inspiring as the exterior, but I did enjoy some of the paintings.
Why, though, you might ask, does a little town like Orvieto have such a magnificent cathedral? Good question. It was ordered constructed by the Pope in the 13th century to house the Corporal of Bolsena, an altar cloth miraculously stained by blood flowing from a Host held by a traveling priest who was troubled by doubts about transubstantiation (the bread/host being transformed into the body of Christ). The cloth (another holy towel perhaps?) is housed in the Chapel of the Corporal within the cathedral.

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The other main attraction in Orvieto is shopping, particularly for the colorful locally-made ceramics. We mostly window shopped, but enjoyed the small-town atmosphere after a week in Rome.

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Dinner was at another Rick Steves’ recommended restaurant, Trattoria la Grotto. Yes, back to pasta. It was decent, reasonably priced, and very close to our hotel. We then had to sample the local gelato at Gelateria Pasqualetti. Verdict, quite good, but no Giolitti’s.
Orvieto was a one-night stopover for us, which was enough time to see the main attractions, but we could definitely have enjoyed the quiet calm for another day.

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